I'm going to do this intro in first person, something I try to avoid. I've avoided rap, hip-hop, and almost anything built around an electronic beat all of my life. My reasoning? I told myself it's not singing, the artist isn't actually playing any instruments, so therefore, it's not music. How wrong was I? Most rap artists are pure emotion, something I've always looked to show and see in music. My band director gave a definition of music that I still stand by today. "Human emotion conveyed through sounds and silence traveling through space and time." However, upon realizing this, I still found rap annoying and I just didn't enjoy it. I'd been hearing a lot about DJ Shadow's Endtroducing. There are no vocals, I was told, just a mastery of sampling and drums. Those comments were absolutely right.
Endtroducing is the work of one man, DJ Shadow. He takes sampled audio, puts them together with his own quality crafted drumbeats, and makes songs that exceed the normal length of most hip-hop songs. While the quality samples and the way they fit together is extraordinary, the greatest point of this album is in the drum beats. The drum beats throw sudden fills and little variations here and there to add a certain ambiance about the song. Everything about this album was carefully nitpicked and tailor-suited to perfection.
Right off the bat, Endtroducing showcases its amazing ability to take one drum beat, a few main samples, and make a song that is over 6 minutes long. Building Steam with a Grain of Salt starts with a piano melody and Shadow's voice describing himself, his music, and why he creates it. After he says he is a teacher of the drums, a thumping drum beat enters. The piano melody becomes a women's choir, and then the song just grooves along with bass fills here and there. We have a short drum solo, filled with electronic double bass kicks and a lot of rhythmic variety. A funk guitar enters, and the drums play an extenuated fill until Building Steam... reverts back to the intro.
Building Steam did just as it said it would, and now with The Number Song, Endtroducing is going at full steam. Just as the title suggests, The Number Song is built around numbers. Shadow takes samples of people saying numbers, puts it to a drum beat and accompanying melodic sounds, and we have a song. The drum beat is much more up-tempo and one of the best beats on the album. Half way through the album, the beat changes a bit, we have a saxophone sample that is killer, and then it launches into a solo. After a bit more from before, the song goes into the outro of a drum solo. A minute long one too.
The next great standout of the album (although all the tracks are quality) is Stem/Long Stem. This song isn't so much focused on a drum beat, and showcases Shadow's sampling ability and his ability to create a beautiful song, showing he knows how melodic structures work. The song starts, and is based around, a keyboard melody. Accented drum hits hit here and there. Suddenly, more and more accents occur, and then a raging punk drum beat comes into the song for about 10 seconds. Everything drops out and reverts back to the intro, this time with a violin countermelody. This happens a few times, with different samples joining in here and there. Then...silence. The sound of foreshadowing enters--the main melody from a later song Organ Donor. After a short feature, the song enters the same feel as the intro, but slightly different. The main keyboard melody is gone. A brass chord builds, all kinds of samples from prior in the song enter, and then, just the brass chord. That moment, the brass feature, is quite possibly the most beautiful part of the entire album. Never in my life had I expected a DJ to make such beautiful music.
Finally, there is one more major song, Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain. Built around a drum beat and bassline, Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain is a slow builder. This beat and bass line continues for a while, until a breakdown of random rap samples and a bass solo to lead back into the original beat. A guitar joins the jam session going on in this song. After an extenuated jam, everything drops out but the drums, starting on the high hat and adding a few bass kicks. Slowly, more drums are added in until a full beat is created. The beat created is funky, fast, and rivaled only by the Number Song. High strings float overtop, and eventually the beat drops out and the song closes on this high string beauty with a classical guitar accompanying.
While I've never heard Mezzanine, I find it hard to believe that any trip-hop, hip-hop, or rap album can top Endtroducing. Everything is put together so perfectly and meticulously that you could almost think some of the songs are played entirely by live bands. DJ Shadow faces high expectations, and admitted himself that he won't be able to live up to them. Yet still, we all wait in anticipation for the second coming of Endtroducing, and I fear it will be all in vain.
Building Steam with a Grain of Salt
The Number Song
Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain